Clearwater Canoe Trail Kayaking, Montana

Added 11 November 2005, Revised 2 February 2008

Pre-Hike | Red Rock Lakes NWR kayaking | Clearwater Canoe Trail kayaking | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6

This trip report is part of a larger trip report from a two week trip to Montana. For the other parts of the trip report click the links above or at the bottom of this page.

On Thursday morning, the B&B's cook, Linda, made us a tofu scramble and homemade hash browns for breakfast. It was a wonderful way to start the day. After breakfast, we high-tailed it north to the Clearwater Canoe trail. The Clearwater Canoe Trail follows four miles of the Clearwater River down to Seeley Lake. We chose it because it doesn't require a shuttle. Though the "trail" is four miles long, the river meanders so severely that a hiking trail connecting the two ends of the canoe trail is only 3/4 of a mile long. That means a vehicle shuttle isn't required. It is easy to paddle down to Seeley Lake, then hike back to your vehicle and return to the lake to pick up your boat. The Clearwater River is touted as a wonderful place to view a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.

It took a little longer than expected to get to the Clearwater River, but the drive crossed some beautiful terrain. I especially enjoyed the Blackfoot River valley. Once again, and unfortunately, we arrived to our destination in the middle of the day, and clearly out of the prime time for seeing wildlife, but we went to the Clearwater Canoe Trail trailhead and started to get the kayak ready for our paddle. There was only one other vehicle in the trailhead parking lot, and we relished the idea of at least having the whole place to ourselves. Just as we were getting pretty close to getting ready to launch, an outfitter showed up and quickly unloaded a bunch of canoes right into the launch area.

We were ready to go, but we couldn't get to the water. Very frustrating. The group included some rather noisy kids as well. We really wanted to be ahead of this group so that we would at least have a slight chance of seeing some wildlife, so we moved towards the launch area, hoping they would let us pass. They put three canoes in the water before one of them finally noticed us standing there and asked if we would like to go ahead. We happily accepted. Then we had to maneuver around the canoes, which took a little time in the narrow confines of the river, especially considering that the people ahead of us either didn't seem to realize or care that we wanted around them.

Once around, we quickly moved ahead and kept a pace that put us just barely out of sight and sound. We scanned carefully for wildlife, but didn't see a whole lot. A painted belly turtle along the Clearwater River.Our first sighting was a painted belly turtle (identified courtesy of Beau Shoupe). At one point along the river, there was a fork and it wasn't easy to tell which was the correct way to go. A painted belly turtle along the Clearwater River. The Clearwater River is so flat that there is no discernible current. It is basically an extremely narrow, highly meandering lake. We ended up making the wrong choice at the fork and went down a dead end. We quickly turned around, but by the time we got back to the river, several canoes had gotten ahead of us again, including the noisy kids. So we passed them again and regained our lead position.

Paddling down the Clearwater River. Paddling down the Clearwater River. Paddling down the Clearwater River.

A duck paddling with us along the Clearwater River. A duck paddling with us along the Clearwater River. As we paddled along we saw a small group of female ducks. Since female ducks are extremely difficult to identify by species, I didn't even try. At any rate, they didn't seem to be bothered by our presence. We also saw a couple of Common loons (Gavia immer), which was a nice treat.

Shan, however, was being bothered by the PFD that we borrowed from her folks. Shan paddling along the Clearwater River. The seat of the kayak kept pushing it upwards, where it got in the way. I wasn't sure if Montana water law required that all persons on watercraft had to wear life-jackets or not, so I made her keep it on. A painted belly turtle swimming with us along the Clearwater River. I found out from someone later that there had to be a life-jacket for her, but she didn't need to wear it at all times. And in truth, it would probably be fairly difficult for an adult to drown in the Clearwater River anyway. It's possible that the clear water of the clear water is deceptively deep, but many places appeared shallow enough to stand up in. We continued to paddle on, scanning closely for any other signs of life. We eventually saw another turtle that looked like another painted belly turtle. We got some fleeting sights of frogs, and I also saw some sort of small aquatic mammal. I saw it so briefly that I have no clue as to what it was.

One of the canoes that we were trying to stay ahead of. Shan paddling down the Clearwater River. The Clearwater River.

A beaver dam in the Clearwater River. After several miles, we saw what I am fairly certain was a beaver dam. It would have been extremely cool to have seen the beaver that made it! But alas, we had no such luck. Of course, whether the beavers were still there, I couldn't say. I did see what could have been beaver slides, but maybe it was my over-active imagination.

Water lilies at the mouth of the Clearwater River.All too soon, we reached Seeley Lake and the end of the four mile long canoe trail. We hovered around the north end of the lake for a while Shan took pictures of the water lilies, which where extremely abundant. A mass of water lilies on Seeley Lake.Then we made our way to the take out point. We had a moderate headwind and some light chop on the lake getting to the take out point, but we were able to pretty easily maintain better than three miles per hour in the kayak, which I was pretty pleased with. All in all, I am happy with our kayak.

The trail back passed close to parts of the Clearwater River. Taken on the hike back to the car.Once back on dry land, we pulled the boat up into a shady area and I set out on the mile-and-a-half hike back to the car. Along the way I stopped briefly at a wildlife blind in a marshy area and saw a Great blue heron and a deer. The whole trail was through a beautiful wooded area. I then drove back to Seeley Lake to get Shan and the boat. On our way out, we stopped in at the ranger station where Shan inquired about seeing bald eagles. Her latest obsession seems to be a desire to see a bald eagle.

To learn about the rest of our trip (or go back to the main trip report), click the 'Pre-Hike' link below.

Stats for the day: 4 paddle miles

Pre-Hike | Red Rock Lakes NWR kayaking | Clearwater Canoe Trail kayaking | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6